Commentary

The Future Of Mobile Is ... SMS?

Don't forget about lowly SMS. It's old and a little creaky, but as we like to say here, ignore it at your peril. Sure it sounds all kinds of backward, but then consider that the future of music on the iPhone and iPod are apps from Pandora, Lala and Spotify that allow you to listen to popular music for free. That's right: free! They use all this whiz-bang technology to stream low-quality versions of songs right to your little handheld. Wow! Move over, boy Elroy. It sounds like we are living in the future! It sounds like ... well, like radio.

So here we are faced with the fact that currently the most maligned and ignored feature on mobile phones, the SMS text message, might just be what was responsible for one of its biggest hits: Twitter.

So says principle of Union Square Ventures (and Twitter investor) Fred Wilson on his blog AVC. "I believe that Twitter's native implementation of SMS is an important part of its success," writes Wilson. "The 140 character limit was driven by the 160 character limit of sms and the initial design of the service put sms compatibility up there near or at the top of the system requirements. Other competitive services, including Facebook, are just not as natively available via SMS the way Twitter is."

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OK, The Riff will grant you Wilson has a dog in this fight, and a vested interest in drumming up the strengths of his dog over Zuckerberg's dog. But the guy has a point. Jack Dorsey, who built the first version of Twitter, envisioned the microblogging service as something of a mobile service. He told Wilson the easiest way to sign someone up to Twitter is by texting, instructing, "when you want to get a friend on Twitter just tell them to send 'follow fredwilson' to 40404." Wilson admits that "something like less than 15 percent of Twitter updates are sent via SMS." But what a 15 percent. It's bigger than most 100 percents.

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